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Thrilling apatheism

March 18, 2009

“It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God.” -Denis Diderot

When I first read up about apatheism (which, I admit, it was on wikipedia), I had one of the few instances in my life when things just started making sense (a feeling I suppose I should’ve gotten from church). I think it was because until finding out about it, I thought that everyone had to be a fanatic. I didn’t believe in God…but I wasn’t so fanatical as to say there is no god and I know that.

This was when I was a stupid kid of course…and much before I learned about negative and positive atheism, what agnosticism really means, etc.,

Anyway, I think it was during a conversation with my father than I thought about something. See, we had just gotten through that infamous lesson on the bitter fruits of apostasy, and I wasn’t really scared (I also think that apostasy’s been very good to me [though not engagement good]), but I was curious.

My question was: what would happen if someone lived well, but didn’t believe?

I mean, the LDS church has this faith+works system, right, but often, what is more important than orthodoxy is orthopraxy. I mean, you can believe a whole lot of things as long as you do and say the right things. So what if you lived your life well, but were an absolute heathen?

I then realized that interestingly enough, not much would happen. I mean, theoretically, you’d be forsaking your eternity (but this doesn’t seem to affect you now.) Belief or nonbelief really doesn’t have that much to affect you today. Instead, what is more important is what you do (and in fact, even when talking about dissenting beliefs, the great ill is that a person will start acting improperly). There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming and outstanding exceptionalism among Mormons or among any religious group that suggests that belief gives its own reward. When tragedy strikes, the Lord appears to dole out suffering and miracle as no respector of beliefs.

The possibility of losing the gift of the Holy Ghost didn’t faze me because I had never explicitly felt the Holy Ghost in the first place. Alternatively, if I had/have (because I guess I’m a fortunate guy — so possibly, I could’ve felt that still small voice the entire time), the curious thing is that this Holy Ghost hasn’t been bothered by my atheism. I seem to be avoiding the big pitfalls well either way.

So, when I was reading a topic on By Common Consent about what difference a belief in a personal god (or god at all) could make, I thought of these things again.

I think that apatheism puts a third dimension to the equation (one that I set about in my previous entry On Atheism and Agnosticism).

The first two dimensions should be known (although some people try to squash these two dimensions into one…)

You’ve got belief as the first dimension. You can have belief in a god (theism) or you can not have belief in a god (negative/weak atheism). You can have belief there is no god (positive/strong atheism) or you can not have belief there is no god (indeterminate…there’s no such thing as a weak theist because theism is the positive belief there is a god. It’s not just a negation that there is no god.)

And the second dimension is knowledge. Notice how in that first dimension there is nothing about knowledge — because beliefs (although they can be aided by knowledge) don’t require it. So, whether you believe or do not believe, you have to ask yourself: do you know if there’s a god? Maybe you know there is. Maybe you know there isn’t. Maybe you don’t know and believe you can’t know. (In any of these situations, your perception of knowledge could be wrong.)

In these dimensions, it seems so extreme. It seems you have to have this extreme belief or extreme nonbelief or you have to have extreme knowledge or extreme ignorance. That’s a lot to gamble with. (Although I will gamble and say I have an extreme ignorance of something like quantum physics.)

…In fact, you don’t have to have such extremity of any of it.

And that’s where the third dimension comes in.

Apatheism is about how strongly you believe whatever position you have. I don’t know what term will suffice at the opposite of apatheism, but there are some peole who I think really experience faith. For them, it is all the matter in the world if they are following the right idea, because it brings tangible benefits. Their knowledge is secure from experience or whatever.  True belief is possible. I don’t think this necessitate god (or the particular paradigms of god from different religions), but it does justify belief just a teeny bit.

But what about the rest of us?  That is where apatheism comes into play. Apatheism is recognizing that you may have a position, but this isn’t central to your life.

I think many theists are apatheist but do not realize it, which is why I’d like to popularize this term if I could. I guess I don’t have hard research, but I intuit that it should be true to account for religiosity throughout history. Ideally, religion should be a motivator. It should inspire change and repentence because if someone truly believed, then they should also believe in the consequences.

Instead, we see so many people who don’t take things seriously. Why not? I think apatheism is the reason…people might believe in their religion but not feel that it will do anything substantial for their lives in the here and now.

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5 Comments
  1. Thanks for the comment, marcus: I’ll have to check your site out later too. I think it’s good to find out that we aren’t alone.

  2. “The possibility of losing the gift of the Holy Ghost didn’t faze me because I had never explicitly felt the Holy Ghost in the first place… the curious thing is that this Holy Ghost hasn’t been bothered by my atheism. I seem to be avoiding the big pitfalls well either way.”

    That sounds exactly like me. I like the way you put that into words.

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